Even considering Ron Carter, the bassist who rode through many mercurial musical styles, albums, and personas with Davis through the 1960s and '70s, with admitted skepticism, the question is asked: What kind of message to the late, great Miles Davis could Dear Miles
be without a trumpet or other horn player in the ensemble?
It features all the glorious power and articulation of Carter's legendary upright bass as he leads drummer Payton Crossley, percussionist Roger Squitero and pianist Stephen Scott through a program of standards that Davis' singular interpretations made uniquely his own. This includes Gil Evans' "Gone" and Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove," and also "My Funny Valentine," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Stella by Starlight" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." In fact, Davis' only songwriting credit here is "Seven Steps to Heaven," which he co-composed with Victor Feldman, while Carter contributes two tunes, "Cut and Paste" and the concluding "595."
Obviously a major relegation of musical labor takes place, as Carter and Squitero pick up the supporting harmonic and melodic roles generally played by Scott, and the pianist picks up most of the work on the melodic and improvisational front lines. Only a musician and bandleader as inventive, sensitive, and courageous as Ron Carter could make such a tribute work, while Scott proves worthy of Carter's confidence that he could carry so much melodic weight.
"My Funny Valentine" offers a true test of this ensemble and project, as it was an enduring Davis favorite perfect for his moody brooding. Scott does what Davis would do (and did): Caressing the melody in different places, exploring various pressure points, pulling in new connections (like Scott's quotes from "When I Fall in Love"), all to coax and create new beauty from within "standard" music. "Stella by Starlight," sketches the melody on as a framework around Carter's bass solo; where Scott catwalks through a similarly pensive mood.
Carter just takes the hell off and runs with "Bag's Groove," as his walking solo quickly breaks from a walk, into a trot, into a gallop, and then a sprint. He then downshifts into the accompanying background and allows Scott's piano to swing through "Someday My Prince Will Come," which swings fat and funky as a classic Wynton Kelly performance. In "Bye Bye Blackbird," Scott first plays the chords and melody one tone darker, just like Miles would mute to temper his trumpet notes; but as his unfettered lead lines dark and flutter, Scott seems to shine as brightly as Red Garland.
It took several passes through, before beginning to understand, that Carter and company are not doing Miles Davis' versions of these songs; they're doing their own versions "in honor of" Miles Davis' versions of these songs. So it's okay that there's no horn player on Dear Miles
. Miles broke a rule or two in his day, too.